From The Editor
by WDN Staff, April 6, 2000
Location! Location! Location!
Wireless data, and the so-called "Wireless Web" in particular, have recently been compared to the World Wide Web circa 1994. Visionaries
see great potential and tiny companies are springing up all across the world to take advantage of the coming revolution. At the same time, however,
many industry watchers and analysts have suggested that the hype has surpassed the potential at this point. I won't draw any conclusions at this
time other than to point out that many of the "experts" who slammed the Web back in 1994 are probably no longer speaking from influential positions.
Despite your personal opinion, one item clearly sets wireless technologies apart from their wired counterparts: mobility. The ability to interact with
remote application servers wirelessly from any location allows your location to become an additional, invaluable data point to application services.
The wired world has made great progress in the use of personalization technologies so that, for instance, appropriate advertisements are targeted to users
as they progress through a Web site (of course, some wouldn't call that "progress", but that's another matter...). Now, this personalization process can
be tailored further by adding in the user's location as an additional variable. Instead of targeting you with generic entertainment advertising, your PDA
or wireless phone could instead inform you that the nearest Thai restaurant (your favorite food) is only two blocks away. If you assume that the next
logical step is to combine wireless data, location services, and intelligent agents, the day is not very far away when your PDA truly becomes a "Personal
Digital Assistant". Based on your personal preferences, your assistant could inform you of interesting items on sale now at nearby stores or of nearby
individuals who are looking for a fishing partner this weekend.
The groundwork for these location-based services is currently being laid due, in part, to two U.S. government initiatives (the same much-maligned
government that originally drove development of the Internet). The Global Positioning System, or GPS, is a collection of 24 Navstar satellites
owned and operated by the U.S. Government, originally for defense purposes. A land-based GPS receiver can use these satellites to determine
its nearly exact location (within 50-100 meters without differential GPS). The second initiative, known as E911, is being led by the FCC. E911
implementation requires that wireless carriers must be able to provide emergency dispatchers with a 911 caller's telephone number (something they can't
currently do in most cases) as well as that caller's cell location...and that's just the first phase. The second phase requires that carriers identify
the location of a 911 caller within 125 meters at least 67% of the time. How do GPS and E911 affect wireless location-based services? The availability
and inexpensive nature of GPS provides a global network that can be quickly and easily used by device manufacturers and application developers. E911
ensures that carriers will also be able to provide call locations from wireless phones. Currently, GPS capabilities are available on handheld computing
platforms via product such as the GPS Pilot.
While add-on GPS units can visually provide your geographic location to a handheld computer, companies like SnapTrack (now
a Qualcomm subsidiary) have produced innovative designs that allow GPS functionality to be built into the device while actually outperforming traditional
GPS in terms of speed and accuracy. SnapTrack utilizes a DSP software-based receiver solution in conjunction with a location server. The location server
processes the satellite data and also performs "altitude aiding" against a terrain elevation database for improved reliability and accuracy. Utilizing
SnapTrack technology within a handset minimally affects the cost of the handset while improving location search accuracy and performance. Carriers can
deploy SnapTrack with no modification to the existing network allowing them to meet E911 requirements with an acceptable future upgrade path.
Simply providing the location in terms of x and y coordinates isn't enough though to kickstart mobile commerce en masse. The real value of this data
lies in tying this information to spatial databases and other information services. A number of companies are producing solutions that
allow developers to build powerful mobile applications. Kivera is marketing a server platform that takes location
information as an input then output a wide variety of information in a variety of formats. These formats includes WAP as well as data to car navigation systems from
Lexus, Cadillac, and Jaguar. AirFlash opts to take mobile commerce a step further by offering complete mobile
ASP (Application Service Provider) capabilities to mobile operators and carriers. AirFlash's SmartZone platform utilizes a number of advanced, patented
algorithms that allow it determine the driving distance to a site as opposed to the geographic distance to a site. Obviously, this is of
great value since we know that two miles in Manhattan doesn't equal 2 or, sometimes, even 200 minutes! Tying this type of technology to real-time
traffic conditions could truly produce a killer mobile application!
Location-based services represent a new type of e-commerce application and are something to be considered when designing your mobile application. A number
of Palm Query Applications (PQAs) for the Palm VII currently take location into account. Try out a few of these location-based apps today by downloading
them at the Palm.net Apps site. We suggest the Starbucks
Coffee Store Locator, Vicinity BrandFinder, and the Moviefone Movie Times applications. Let me know what you think!